Half Century of Progress show returning to Rantoul airport

Half Century of Progress show returning to Rantoul airport

Darius Harms said he was asked the question several times a day: Is there an agreement to hold this year's Half Century of Progress farm show?

Harms, chairman of the show held every other year by the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club at the Rantoul airport, breathed a sigh of relief recently when he was informed the show had been approved by the Illinois Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics.

"It's (been) kind of a tough situation," Harms said of the club being unsure whether the show would go on this year.

"It's hard to plan an event like that when you've got to wait till the last two or three months to get everything done. There's too much advertising, too much advance work, the planting of the seed.

"There's just a whole lot involved. It just makes you sweat for awhile when you can't plan ahead of time."

Because club members could not wait, they proceeded with fingers crossed as if the show would be approved.

At issue is holding the event at an aviation facility.

Just prior to the 2011 show, Airport Manager Bill Clayton said he was notified by the Division of Aeronautics that the airport had to be closed during the event due to safety concerns of planes flying into the airport while such a large event was being held. This year there was some doubt whether Half Century could be held there at all.

It wasn't as if the village of Rantoul waited until the last minute to try to secure approval for this year's show.

Clayton said former Mayor Neal Williams asked him to get the ball rolling early to get the government OK for this year's show. But despite submitting a proposal more than a year and a half prior to the show, the village of Rantoul only recently received notification that the show could be held.

Clayton said the application was made in January 2012.

Said Clayton, "The mayor said, 'Bill, we want to be proactive and get all we can for the village, and why don't we go ahead and request permission, to get the approval now?"

Clayton said the village received no response in 2012.

"We went through the whole year ... wondering why they didn't respond," the airport manager said.

He said part of the problem was understanding what was required of the village and determining whether Rantoul could do it.

So Clayton began trying to get information.

The Division of Aeronautics and Federal Aviation Administration required a contract between the village and the I&I club.

Division of Aeronautics officials met with village officials and let them know the conditions — conditions that ranged from there being no other venues existing in town that could accommodate such an event as the Half Century; an airspace study; and proof that the event would be a financial benefit to the airport and the community.

The I&I will pay the village $10,000 in compensation for the show being held at the airport.

Starting Aug. 16, the airport's north-south runway will be closed to accommodate site preparations. And then at 6 a.m. Aug. 22, the first day of the four-day show, the east-west runway will be closed.

After Aug. 26, only the east-west runway will be reopened, and the north-south runway will be closed until the airport has been cleaned up.

Mayor Chuck Smith said Clayton deserves a lot of credit.

"He's been negotiating the contract since January 2012," Smith said.

Smith said the size and scope of the event has a decided economic impact on Rantoul and the area.

"We're excited to have it back in town," Smith said.

He said village and I&I officials will also talk about the possibility of bus transportation to take show-goers to and from various locations in Rantoul.

"We're going to sit down and talk about that," Smith said.

Harms said the club has been preparing for the show, including "working on the ground, getting things mowed up, getting planting done and caring for the crops."

"We also need a little time out for prayer because the Good Lord has to help, too," Harms said.

The Half Century chairman said the show is a lot of work.

"We get calls everyday on camping and, 'Can we bring equipment?' and 'When can we bring it?' We get numerous calls daily.

"We have a lot to do and a short time to do it. We've got a lot of people behind us. That helps."

And it's not the only big show the club is holding this year.

The I&I will also hold its annual Historic Farm Days in Penfield this July.

Ideally, Clayton would like to keep the airport open during the Half Century show. It makes for easier access of pilots wanting to attend. And until the 2011 show, that was the case.

When the airport had to be closed at the last minute prior to that show, it caught some pilots unaware. Despite the closing being posted, Clayton estimated about a dozen pilots tried to fly in.

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